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Is education a problem or a business opportunity?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 Nov 2012, 23:40


'In Business' with Peter Day on BBC Radio 4 recently included insights on higher education from the Open University Vice Chancellor Martin Bean.

Martin Beanenlightens, enthuses and convinces us of a model that puts the student at the centre of things, supported by great teaching that exploits everything online and distance learning can now offer.

Personally I always need a transcript alongside radio or TV if I am to start to recall much that is said. I offer here a partial transcript.

The Open University point of view is expressed in the first eight minutes.

PETER DAY (PD) suggests that people are complaining about education. This is 'In Business' so that angle is on the graduates that join companies.

'Almost everywhere education seems to be failing to produce what people want from it'.

Now businesses are getting much more involved we are told.

Is education a problem or a business opportunity?

'Wherever they come from and whatever they are learning what should students be taught? That’s something companies are increasingly getting involved with because they are finding it difficult to get the trained people they need'.

Various industry leaders are interviewed, but a substantial part of programme, indeed the first 8 minutes of a 30 minute piece goes to the Open University, Vice Chancellor, Martin Bean, (MB) who we are reminded comes from industry himself having led education at Microsoft.

How is the OU introduced?

One of the global pioneers in new kinds of education was the Open University set up by the British Government 43 years ago to create distance learning based on broadcasting to reach students outside lecture halls. The Internet now provides huge new opportunities for the Open University. Here’s one of the OU’s online lessons:

The History of English in 10 minutes (narrated by Clive Anderson), an iTunes podcast is offered as an example of the online learning experience.

PD: Education is in some kind of crisis: why?

MB: Institutions needs to have the student at the heart of the equation otherwise it leads to dissatisfaction either with the teaching, or worse still the outcomes when they graduate.

Are employers getting 21stcentury skills, softer skills that are really about people, about the ability to collaborate, group problem solve, the ability to communicate effectively verbally, the ability to work in teams and our model as you know is based on practice-based learning, so the beauty of embedding learning in the workplace with the Open University model means that you're actually getting the best of both worlds. I think the fact that over 80% of the FTSE 100 companies in the UK sponsor an OU student gives a pretty clear indication to me that that model is one that overcomes some of that.

PD: There is competition from the more traditional universities now?

MB: Other more traditional universities are embracing more innovative practices that we’ve been using and I think that’s fantastic, that’s what students are demanding, these are students now that view technology and access and real time interaction an absolute necessity in their life.

It’s all about embracing the technology of the day.

MB: What’s on my agenda now is to continue to leverage the web, and the personalisation of the web, to fully embrace these new tablet and mobile devices that are proliferating the world and directly link them in to our virtual learning environments, so that people can get as much out of a tablet or mobile device as they do for entertainment today they can get as much if not more using it as a Higher Education learning device.

PD: Looking at the history of technology it is often thought that the new will replace the old?

MB: We have to redefine what personal means. The web has moved from being very content centric to very people centric.

The personal side of higher education is where the magic happens.

MB: What’s interesting though is the redefinition of what 'personal' can actually be. We used to think of personal as meaning physical, having to be in the same room, what’s interesting in what has happened to the web is it has moved from being very content centric to being very people centricand enabling us to engage and collaborate in Facebook-type ways that we could not have contemplated even five years ago.

PD: Is it better?

MB: It's not fair to compare classroom or lecture with online as it is all to do with the quality of teaching.

What is effective teaching?

When we get that precious time with an academic we want is discourse, want we want is challenge.

The real question is ‘what’s fit for purpose?’


Other contributors were:

Nick Wilson
Managing director, HP UK

Rob Williams
Principal lecturer, University of the West of England

Ralph Mainard
Deputy master, Dulwich College

Joe Spence
Master of Dulwich College

Jim O’Neill
Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management

Kunal Bahl
Founder of Indian coupon website Snapdeal

Krishnan Ganesh
Founder Tutorvista

Eric Schmidt
Chairman, Google


Day, P (2011) In Business. TX 5 JAN & 9 Jan 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018xwtc (Accessed 10 Jan 2012)


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How to make age 8 to 14 year olds value rather than see as a chore, schooling?? I suspect many who even like school see lessons as something to get through before break and lunch and seeing friends. To change mid and older children's thinking about learning from an onerous responsibility to welcome privilige or even just younger child like curious enthusiasm?? Don't envy educationalists! And I met and spoke to Gove last year...another politician seeming (insert whatever critical adj. you fancy) but who I perceived as genuinely working hard and creatively to improve education and *all* kids prospects. Ps, I am a fan of Grammar schools, I went to one very luckily since I had had very disrupted primary education, and even with a kid like me who came from a background where most people had only done a few years or school, father learned to read as an adult and still my cousins were leaving school at age 11, I did well even though I left after o'levels. So streaming that takes account of ability and potential ability I believe is sensible. And, kids truly not enjoying more academic or more abstract learning are not in my opinion served well by 'having' to do it...really hope a way is found so that learning by 'doing' is given more time and also respect. I would also love to see a change in wider population thinking, so that education as an adult becomes an unsurprising activity. So that no one says, oh really!? Doing a degree with the OU? How brilliant!! If we see adult education as something very normal and common then I would also be happier for kids to leave school at sixteen...try the working world or unemployment and then hopefully go back to proper education and this time really appreciate it!! The last few suggestions have loads of holes in, and would probably lose lots of kids too who would never go back to school....just throwing it up for thinking outside the box sake.....
Gillian Wilkinson

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Hmm, on-line learning. Wonderful concept but it has a down side. Verbal interaction is so important in the process of learning and sometimes I feel I have been sold short by this method of learning. Is it an age thing?

The spontaneity of ideas and thoughts are missing, feedback is more crafted.

Being a constantly 'suspended' pupil for fighting the system, then going into teaching,I have found that educational theories and institutions are almost always created by middle class people, most teachers are from such a background and would find it difficult to actually understand the 'tough' background some of our young people come from.

Life long learning is crucial. Even the Open University is something this part of the population can't really access.

On a very positive note, I also have only really started learning for myself since October when I began an open university course and I love it.

Salud, Gillian

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Gillian, I think you might be very right...about people who make education policies...don't want to offend any one, but maybe middle class back grounds who really have a desire to make life fairer and better for all, despite good intentions still can't see what would really help some parts of the population. And the same for those with disadvantaged backgrounds who actually end up through effort and skill to become influential on policy making, they might have some really valuable thinking to add, but even so, it's not possible to generalise their own success to everyone....there might be something a bit unusual about them that helped them achieve the position that wouldn't have been seen as very likely given the starting point. Sorry for writing a bit 'seriously' Jonathon and Gillian....I just feel as I get older that the people in authority can't be trusted to get everything they do right! People look at stuff from their own ideology...and with very good intentions they still make mistakes. A fantasy of mine would be to see politicians on both sides occasionally make generous comments about the good bits the other side achieve...then critique of the bad bits might be more easily listened to??
Design Museum

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Hi Gillian, I have been convinced that online works thanks to several modules of the Masters in Open and Distance Education where a bunch of us courtesy of the Tutor Forum and Elluminste were often online (here in the blogs too). Then at Christmas brother and nephew joined us for a family game of Balderdash ... He lives in South Africa, we had them with us via Skype on an iPad that we passed around the room. amazing. Resarch repeated over the last 8 years shows that where students no elect to go face to face or entirely online both are equally satisfied with the experience. increasingly a bit of both, including the telephone and email, might work best.